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How to identify a modern icon – five expert tips

tilda swinton

I have always been very interested in people and their stories, and every month I create a report here at WGSN identifying modern icons of our age. It is becoming more important for our clients to know about women who are having a cultural and aesthetic impact in a long-term way. It is also crucial that they have inspiration for future collections. So far, I have identified a number of women I consider to be iconic now – from Linda Rodin to Florence Griffith Joyner – and this is my process…

1. A modern icon is above numbers. They are not defined by the size of their Twitter or Instagram following, or their age for that matter. I know a lot of models are cast these days with their social media network in mind as it guarantees brands more exposure, but icons transcend this. I’m actually more drawn to women who are older too – we are so obsessed with youth, that I think people who have more history conversely seem much fresher.

Linda Rodin

2. A modern icon has element of punk. They do what they want, and as a result, don’t look tied to a certain era. This rebellion against trend is what makes them timeless. For example, when I was researching Carmen Dell’Orefice recently, I watched lots of interviews with her and one thing that really stood out was her assertion she always does the exact opposite of what everyone tells her when it comes to style. These people are very anti-establishment – I love that.

3. A modern icon has more than just style. They must have a compelling history, a story that could only be theirs. This in turn makes you interested in their look. Take Patti Smith – she never wears make-up and sticks to a uniform of jeans and white shirts but her work as a musician and equal rights activist makes her this fascinating, definitive icon not just of her generation but every generation. Patti’s whole attitude has been a huge inspiration to the fashion industry for years.

Carmen_Dell_Orefice_www.carmendellorefice.com4. A modern icon is not Audrey Hepburn. Although she was incredible, there’s is something a bit passe about citing Hepburn as an icon and inspiration now. It has been done by everyone at some point and is very cliched. I like to look at iconic women who are underdogs. They are beautiful, but not perfect – that is more representative of our time.

5. Modern icons are a dying breed. An icon must have a certain degree of mystery and people have forfeited this to document there lives on social media. You could argue the first wave of fashion bloggers could be icons of the future, but I would say they will always be more idols than icons. Their attention is much more inwardly focused, they document their own lives in a beautiful way and other people aspire to have their lifestyle. In comparison, people are fascinated by icons because they have lived incredible lives. As social media takes over and people live more digitally, I suspect there will be fewer people we can say are genuinely icons. Is taking selfies the way to create a truly fantastic legacy? I don’t think so.

DISCOVER ICONS: Subscribers can check out Robbie’s Icon series, live on WGSN now.

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